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Program and policy effects

Umut Özek.

High school graduation rates in the United States are at an all-time high, yet many of these graduates are deemed not ready for postsecondary coursework when they enter college. This study examines the short-, medium-, and long-term effects of remedial courses in middle school using a regression discontinuity design. While the short-term test score benefits of taking a remedial course in English language arts in middle school fade quickly, I find significant positive effects on the likelihood of taking college credit-bearing courses in high school, college enrollment, enrolling in more selective colleges, persistence in college, and degree attainment.

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Stacey L. Brockman.

This paper presents results from a randomized trial of a nudge intervention designed to encourage and enhance virtual student support. During the 2019-20 school year, randomly selected mentors in a school-based mentoring program received monthly reminders with tips for communicating with youth via text, email, and phone. Unexpectedly, the results showed that although the informational reminders did not impact the frequency of mentors’ outreach, they reduced the rate at which students reached out and responded to their mentors. Moreover, and possibly as a consequence, mentors who received the intervention felt less connected to students and less satisfied with their mentoring relationships, and treated students gained less from the mentoring program as a whole in terms of their personal and attitudinal growth. This study’s findings add an important nuance to the evidence on how behavioral interventions in educational contexts operate. Although past studies find that reminder nudges can support individuals’ engagement in discrete tasks, this evidence suggests that prescribing relational practices may be less effective. Thus, mentor supports must be carefully designed in order to yield the intended benefits for students.

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Tareena Musaddiq, Kevin Stange, Andrew Bacher-Hicks, Joshua Goodman.

The Covid-19 pandemic drastically disrupted the functioning of U.S. public schools, potentially changing the relative appeal of alternatives such as homeschooling and private schools. Using longitudinal student-level administrative data from Michigan and nationally representative data from the Census Household Pulse Survey, we show how the pandemic affected families’ choices of school sector. We document four central facts. First, public school enrollment declined noticeably in fall 2020, with about 3 percent of Michigan students and 10 percent of kindergartners using other options. Second, most of this was driven by homeschooling rates jumping substantially, driven largely by families with children in elementary school. Third, homeschooling increased more where schools provided in-person instruction while private schooling increased more where instruction was remote, suggesting heterogeneity in parental concerns about children’s physical health and instructional quality. Fourth, kindergarten declines were highest among low income and Black families while declines in other grades were highest among higher income and White families, highlighting important heterogeneity by students’ existing attachment to public schools. Our results shed light on how families make schooling decisions and imply potential longer-run disruptions to public schools in the form of decreased enrollment and funding, changed composition of the student body, and increased size of the next kindergarten cohort.

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Plamen Nikolov, Steve Yeh.

Cognition, a component of human capital, is fundamental for decision-making, and understanding the causes of human capital depreciation in old age is especially important in aging societies. Using various proxy measures of cognitive performance from a longitudinal survey in South Africa, we study how education affects cognition in late adulthood. We show that an extra year of schooling improves memory performance and general cognition. We find evidence of heterogeneous effects by gender: the effects are stronger among women. We explore potential mechanisms, and we show that a more supportive social environment, improved health habits, and reduced stress levels likely play a critical role in mediating the beneficial effects of educational attainment on cognition among the elderly.

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Mark J. Chin.

In this paper I study the impact of court-mandated school desegregation by race on student suspensions and special education classification. Simple descriptive statistics using student enrollment and outcome data collected from the largest school districts across the country in the 1970s and 1980s show that Black-White school integration was increasing for districts under court order, but not for a set of comparison districts. Similarly, Black student suspension rates were increasing at faster rates in integrating districts relative to comparison districts, and their classification rates as having an intellectual disability were decreasing at slower rates. Differences-in-differences and event study models confirm these patterns I observe in the raw data: after integration, school districts experienced statistically and practically significant reductions in racial isolation across schools and growth in racial disparities in discipline and special education classification. The impacts of integration are immediate, sustained, and robust for student suspensions in particular. My results thus provide causal evidence confirming prior descriptive and theoretical work suggesting that the racial composition of schools may influence measures of categorical inequality by race.

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Ismael Sanz, J.D. Tena.

One of the most obvious and not sufficiently well understood political decisions in education regards the optimal amount of instruction time required to improve academic performance. This paper considers an unexpected, exogenous regulatory change that reduced the school calendar of non-fee-paying schools (public and charter schools) in the Madrid region (Spain) by two weeks during the 2017/2018 school year. Using difference-in-differences regression, we found that this regulatory change contributed to a significant deterioration in academic performance, particularly in Spanish and English. We further explored non-linear (quantile) effects across the distribution of scores in standardized exams, finding that the disruption due to the new regulations affected more students in the upper quartile of the distribution. Overall, we found a reduction in the gap across non-fee-paying schools and an increase in the gap between non-fee- and fee-paying schools (private schools).

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Charles T. Clotfelter, Helen F. Ladd, Calen R. Clifton.

Using detailed classroom-level data for North Carolina, we build on previous research to examine racial gaps in access to high-quality teachers. We calculate the exposure of White, Black and Hispanic students to teachers with various characteristics in 4th grade, 7th grade math and English, and 10th grade math and English. We find that across the state White students enjoy sizable advantages over both Black and Hispanic students in the form of higher exposure to teachers with strong credentials and lower exposure to teachers with weak credentials. Remarkably, we also find this pattern of White advantage in most individual counties, with the largest White advantage occurring in the largest counties by enrollment. A decomposition of the White advantages shows that the bulk of them can be attributed to differences across counties and differences between schools within counties. Only in 10th grade are differences across classrooms within schools important in explaining the White advantage.

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Michael Gilraine, Jeffrey Penney.

An administrative rule allowed students who failed an exam to retake it shortly after, triggering strong `teach to the test' incentives to raise these students' test scores for the retake. We develop a model that accounts for truncation and find that these students score 0.14 standard deviations higher on the retest. Using a regression discontinuity design, we estimate thirty percent of these gains persist to the following year. These results provide evidence that test-focused instruction or `cramming' raises contemporaneous performance, but a large portion of these gains fade-out. Our findings highlight that persistence should be accounted for when comparing educational interventions.

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Lauren P. Bailes, Sarah Guthery.

This study investigates whether a principal’s likelihood of hiring a teacher of color is sensitive to the racial composition of students in the school. We used an administrative dataset from Texas including 59,157 principal observations and 662,997 teacher observations spanning 2000 to 2017 in order to consider whether or not the disappearing diversity from a majority white school is a factor in principals’ decisions to hire teachers of color. We examined the hiring patterns of principals within schools where 50% of the students were white and compared the probability that a nonwhite teacher would be hired as the homogeneity of the student body increased (that is, as increasing proportions of the student body were white). We found that white principals were less likely to hire teachers of color as the proportion of white students approached 100%. This study provides initial evidence that teacher hires are not only sensitive to the principal’s race but also to the racial composition of the student body. Specifically, as the diversity of the student body disappears, so too does the principal’s likelihood of hiring a teacher of color.

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Ishtiaque Fazlul, Todd R. Jones, Jonathan Smith.

Millions of high school students who take an Advanced Placement (AP) course in one of over 30 subjects can earn college credit by performing well on the corresponding AP exam. Using data from four metro-Atlanta public school districts, we find that 15 percent of students’ AP courses do not result in an AP exam. We predict that up to 32 percent of the AP courses that do not result in an AP exam would result in a score of 3 or higher, which generally commands college credit at colleges and universities across the United States. Next, we examine disparities in AP exam-taking rates by demographics and course taking patterns.  Most immediately policy relevant, we find evidence consistent with the positive impact of school district exam subsidies on AP exam-taking rates. In fact, students on free and reduced-price lunch (FRL) in the districts that provide a higher subsidy to FRL students than non-FRL students are more likely to take an AP exam than their non-FRL counterparts, after controlling for demographic and academic covariates.

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